Reader Friday: Your First Computer

What was your first personal computer? I fell in love with the Kaypro and was the envy of my law firm when I first got it (along with a boss daisy wheel printer). This baby had 64kb of RAM! And a 9-inch screen! And came bundled with WordStar, dBASE II, and Space Invaders!

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34 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Your First Computer

  1. Mine was a Radio Shack portable job about the size and weight of a big sewing machine. I don’t remember the model name but it was only just portable. It came standard with 2 disc drives, no hard drive, a detachable keyboard that doubled as its cover, and a spare power cord! I also bought a dot matrix printer with it. I thought it was the bomb.

  2. An Apple 2. Orange screen. I broke out in a sweat every time I tried to do anything for fear I’d break it.
    But YES! to Space Invaders. I remember Hubster coming to bed at 2 AM announcing his high score.

  3. LOL! You remember it in such detail. All I remember was my first computer was huge and clunky and must’ve weighed 40 pounds (or it felt like it). I remember green cursors/print and Prodigy. Probably today’s calculators have more power than my first computer. But it was cool at the time.

    And I’ve done a technology shift. Back then it was exciting to have a computer. While I certainly enjoy some aspects of technology, I now long for the time when it didn’t take over my life but unfortunately, most days, all day is taken up with computer time for work, writing, and other things.

    What a difference three decades makes.

  4. My first computer was one at work. It was the hottest thing around at the time. It was a Tandy Radip Shack TRS-80 with a 5.25 floppy drive. The operating system had to be loaded from a floppy at at every startup, and programs, such as a word processor, had to be loaded from a floppy after the OS. I think it had 4K of RAM.

  5. When I was in graduate school, a statistics professor assigned four-person groups to research something. Each group got custody of a “portable” computer, complete with the phone cradle to dial into . . . the modem? Anyway, I had that puppy in my house for weeks and never had a clue what to do with it.

    My dad gave me a dedicated word processor around 1988 that looked like a computer, but as far as I know did not, in fact, compute anything. (It looked like Richard Dreyfus’s word processor in the bookend scenes in Stand By Me.)

    My first real computer was an ATT desktop that required two floppy disks just to get it to boot up.

  6. Ah, the good old days of Kaypro! My father-in-law knew Andy Kay. We had Kaypros 2 and 4, and finally graduated to the ultimate–Kaypro 10 with an internal hard drive.

    But before that, we used a Ferguson Big Board with 8″ floppies.

  7. I don’t remember. But I also don’t remember my first kiss. I know. Hopeless.

    I do remember a Wang computer quite early on. Green characters on black. It had one fabulous function: you could extend a selection to whatever character you entered so you could move forward very quickly and accurately. I miss that function and wish we could still do that. Or is there a way to do that now? Does anyone know?

  8. Ah, the Commodore 64. It was the Volkswagen Beetle of home computers. Inboard OS, built-in BASIC interpreter, and great sound. It was the William Shatner ads that sold me.

  9. Oh my! It was the first Mac with 1 whole meg of memory. I can’t believe how much we paid for it and how we oooo-ed and ahhhh-ed over a whole megabyte! Today, a single photo taken with my iPhone would crash it. Fun memory.

  10. My first exposure to a personal computer was the one my brother-in-law brought over for my dad. What I remember most about it was using the small TV in the kitchen as the monitor. A little while after, I got an IBM that I called Junior for some reason. I haven’t a clue as to all the bells and whistles that came with it.

  11. In college (I went to a fancy private school) we had terminals to share time on an HP3000. If you got to the lab early enough you could get a terminal with UPPER and lower characters. If you wanted fancy ASCII graphics.

    My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81. Memory was on a cassette player, output to a TV.

    After college a friend had an Apple II. A first edition. Many a night’s gaming was trashed because the power button was inline with rest of the keyboard. Did the screen go dark? That wasn’t the backspace. I helped write game cheat books and character editors on that with him.

    Wizardry I, Wasteland, Ultima. If you had a map set or character editor, you probably got it from B&B Solutions.

    I still have an 80 to 132 column converter card for an Apple II. And a square hole cutter to convert single sided 5.25″ disks into double sided.

  12. Ah, the spring of 1980. Apple II plus. One floppy drive, 48 KB of RAM, monitor, lower-case chip, and a Paper Tiger printer, which didn’t have descenders on the lower-case letters but squished them up into the footprint of the upper-case letters.

    That was a fancy rig for a lowly college student, but I’d already started selling D&D articles to hobby magazines, so financial support from dear old Mom and Dad wasn’t difficult.

    I wrote my first (nonfiction) book on that thing, no problem. Getting the manuscript printed was a bear, though. No publisher was crazy enough to want dot-matrix manuscripts with no descenders. I bought an old IBM Selectric tilt-ball terminal that didn’t do ASCII and was amazingly slow. Had to write a driver shim in assembly code that converted ASCII to EBCDIC and burn it onto an EPROM (It helped that I was a computer engineering major.) Fun times.

  13. My first real computer was a Mac II. I was a designer/art director back then (’80s), and when I saw a demo of the new desktop publishing program Pagemaker, I thought “OMG, this will change everything.” And it did. And like Marilynn above, I’m writing this on a lovely, big iMac.

  14. My first computer was an Atari ST, purchased right after New Years, 1986, for the princely sum of $800, which was a lot for a college student back then. I’d have loved a Mac, but they were three times or more what the ST cost. The ST used the GEM OS, which was similar to the Mac, and light years ahead of DOS driven PCs. I bought a black and white monitor which had a higher resolution than the color version, so that I could write school papers and short stories πŸ™‚

    I upgraded to a 1040STE in 1990, after finally buying a color monitor. Alas, the ST was far more popular in the UK and Europe, especially Germany, than it was here.

    These days, I own MacBooks and plug one into a flatscreen monitor to write on.

  15. Memories, memories!

    My husband and I could never be called tech whizzes, but I have an older brother who holds several degrees, one from Columbia University in applied mathematics; and he used to own a software company. Now, he is a senior research scientist for the government at Georgia Tech, and his lovely wife is the chair of the computer science department and has recently been tapped for another prestigious title.

    So, all that to say that my brother gave us our first computer in the early ’90s. It was one of those white boxes that took up most of our desk space and blinked a lot. I can’t quote the RAM and speed and all those other computery terms, but suffice it to say, I didn’t pack it in my suitcase when I traveled.

    How far we have come (don’t know if it’s up or down, though)…now we have no less than five computers for just the two of us, with several extra monitors, not including tablet and phones, with the necessary external hard drives and flashes to keep everything safe. πŸ™‚

    • Life today:
      My work laptop
      Wife Dell laptop
      Wife HP convertible
      My home HP (current preferred computer for high school daughter to do classwork)
      Chromebook (from school)
      Lenovo thinkpad running Raspberian
      Lenovo Desktop
      2 Raspberry Pi’s /2 Raspberry Pi Zeros
      Macbook (at college with other daughter)
      iPad, Nook, and iPhones

      Thinking about two home servers.

  16. The Kaypro II was my first computer as well — and I still use it occasionally.

    It is a wonderful distraction-free writing machine with the best keyboard I’ve ever used. It was said to have been based on the IBM Selectric typewriter keyboard.

    For about three years in the early 80’s I flew all over northern Canada with it during my job as a correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the Arctic. None of my co-workers had ever seen anything like it and my boss was amazed at what he thought was my perfect typing when doing up memos etc.

    It was a heavy and awkward brute but it served me well. I still enjoy rough-draft blasting on it from time to time. But getting stuff from it and into my modern machines is complex. It takes me time to remember how to hook up the serial port with the right adapters to talk to the PC’s and more time to remember how to run the various communications programs to transmit the copy.

  17. I can’t remember the name of mine, but it was a desktop and came in several boxes. I bought it in 1989 from DAK, a catalog mail order company which was cutting edge for its time and is actually back in business after several years’ hiatus. The computer was maybe a year or so behind the curve of what was available but it was adequate for my needs. It was basically an expensive word processor with some bells and whistles. I outgrew it in time but never forgot how I felt when I hooked everything up (it took a while), turned it on, and discovered that it actually worked. Oh, yeah…it was portable if you had a station wagon to haul it around..

    Speaking of which…the very early computers stored data on large, reel to reel magnetic tape. Ohio State University had a computer center which it quickly outgrew and for whatever reason set up another on the other side of the campus. A van was soon pressed into service to run tape reels back and forth. It was quite a sight.

  18. Mr. Hartlaub’s comment about the Ohio State computer reminded me of the computer room we had at the bank where I worked in the mid to late 60s. The room was probably 20 by 20 or 25 by 25. Employees couldn’t wear watches in the room because if we did, the forever reliable Timexs never worked properly again.

  19. A Vic-20, in the early ’80s. Yes, it was cheap, but I taught myself to program BASIC on it. Moved up to a Commodore 64 a few years later.

    My favorite old computer, though, was an IBM Portable PC computer that I bought 2nd hand in the late 80s. Not only was it more robust and had Wordperfect on it (with 64K RAM and a slot for a 5 1/4 floppy disk) – but it was *portable*. The computer, monitor, and floppy disk slot were all in one big box-like structure. The keyboard was connected by a wire, of course. You could connect the keyboard to the face of the computer, and the back of the keyboard made a sturdy bottom for the suitcase-sized computer. You could then carry it like a heavy suitcase. I took it everywhere, wrote university class papers on it, and in the mid-90s, I was able to connect to the newly public internet via our Free-net.

    Ah, memories!

  20. I guess because I didn’t really understand the nature of computers–I thought short wave radio was sort of the end-all and be-ll of technology–I wondered why a household would need a computer. I mean, how much computing would you need to track a household income of $1,800 a month?

  21. Mine was the Kaypro II. I modified a beautiful roll-top desk, the only workplace I had, by boring a hole through the two back panels to push through the power cord, and then cutting out the center four pigeonholes. (This was a reproduction, not an antique. But still, it was the most expensive piece of furniture I’d bought until that point.) The holes for the cord didn’t align precisely. So it was a major production to move the computer. I had to wrestle the three-prong cord’s huge end through the barely large enough openings, twisting it first one direction, then another. The suitcase-style computer barely fit the space I’d made for it, but that was where I sat each night to write.

    The printer was some forgotten model of dot matrix. It was so loud and shook the printer table so hard that I ended up putting a four-inch layer of foam cushion beneath it. That saved my sanity and my hearing while it spewed out the continuous-sheet paper as I printed my first stories and novel.

    I no longer know where I stored the multiple floppy disks that held those stories. And I’m not even sure I still have those printouts. But I’m grateful every day that I can grab my laptop and write anywhere I please these days.

  22. Oh, goodness. I don’t remember the brand, only that it was 1987 and ran on DOS. I didn’t know the first thing about it. I think I entered our checks into DAC-Easy three times before I learned I had to save what I entered before turning it off–can you believe I just flipped the switch…didn’t shut it down or anything.
    Even though there was a steep learning curve, it was better than writing on a typewriter!

  23. I’m not sure if this qualifies, but we bought a Z80 kit. At least I think that’s the name of it. It was a tiny little thing that had a membrane keyboard and an 8080 processor. We could hook it up to a tv screen and write basic programs on it. I think it was late 70s or early 80s.

    I wish I had kept it. It would make a great doorstop.

  24. I didn’t get a PC for a long time and the first was Windows 98. It didn’t work too well with the technology at the time but I could log on and get Facebook and some games.

  25. I’m pre-dating y’all. My first computing experience was a German Enigma machine my dad smuggled back from WWII. Seriously, though, it was in 1978 at the police academy when we trained on NCIC and CPIC and the servers were the size of a small city’s electrical substation. I was 21 then and remember the instructors predicting that computers would revolutionize criminal investigation.

    Today, I cling to Windows 8 on a Toshiba laptop that has one screen hinge broken and has to be popped back into place like my nose bone (totally another story here). I fear what’s coming in computer stores tomorrow.

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